Will the new U.S. Defense Secretary be good for Israel?

Former Boeing executive Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan to assume role January 1st.

U.S. President Donald Trump, flanked by Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, holds a cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington. (photo credit: REUTERS/JONATHAN ERNST)
U.S. President Donald Trump, flanked by Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, holds a cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington.
This week Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan will take over as acting US secretary of defense, and for Israel, which is fighting Iranian entrenchment in a country where the US is withdrawing troops, it is imperative to have a man who knows the region as a top defense official.
Shanahan came to the Pentagon in July 2017 after a long career at Boeing. There, he worked mostly on the aerospace company’s commercial side, meaning that he had little, if any, interaction with the IDF or the Defense Ministry. Boeing executives in Israel were not familiar with him, and the one Israeli he has met in his current post is Defense Ministry Director General Udi Adam, when the latter visited the Pentagon a year ago.
The content of the meeting has not been made public, but came around the time that a canceled test of Israel’s Arrow missile defense system was supposed to have taken place in Alaska.
For tech-hungry Israel, a Boeing executive with over three decades of experience in commercial airliner programs, as well as president and general manager of Boeing Missile Defense Systems and of Boeing Rotorcraft Systems, could be an advantage.
On the other hand, though and unlike his predecessor Gen. James Mattis, Shanahan has no military background and little foreign policy experience, which for the Middle East, might be a game-changer.
During his 2017 Senate confirmation hearing, Shanahan said that technology, not strategy, was his strongpoint, The Daily Beast reported.
“I believe my skill set strongly complements that of Secretary Mattis,” he was quoted as saying. “He is a master strategist with deep military and foreign policy experience. As Deputy Secretary of Defense and Secretary Mattis’ chief operating officer, I bring strong execution skills with background in technology development and business management.”
Mattis, on the other hand, enlisted in the military in 1969 and is a Marine veteran of the Persian Gulf War where he served as a lieutenant colonel in the war in Afghanistan. Promoted to brigadier general and then four-star general, he played a key role in the 2003 Iraq War, during the battle for Fallujah. He finished his military career as the head of Central Command, which directs US military operations across the Middle East and Central Asia.
After resigning following Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria, Mattis said he would stay on the job until the end of February in order to ensure a smooth transition.
But, according to multiple reports, Mattis and Trump had a contentious relationship and Mattis will stay on until January 1 when Shanahan – who has a strong relationship with the president and Vice President Mike Pence – will take over.
“I am pleased to announce that our very talented Deputy Secretary of Defense, Patrick Shanahan, will assume the title of Acting Secretary of Defense starting January 1, 2019,” Trump tweeted last Sunday. “Patrick has a long list of accomplishments while serving as Deputy, previously Boeing. He will be great!”
If approved by the Senate, Shanahan will be in charge of Trump’s decision to withdraw some 2,000 US forces from Syria, and cut half of the 14,000 troops in Afghanistan.
Experts have warned that the withdrawal of troops from the region could put Israel at risk. One unnamed senior diplomatic official quoted by Channel 10 said, “Trump threw us under the wheels of the semi-truck of the Russian army, the one that transfers weapons to Syria and Hezbollah.”
IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot has also admitted that while it would not affect the IDF’s ability to act against Iran and Hezbollah, the US withdrawal is a “significant” move.
“For decades, we have dealt with this front alone. That’s also how it has been over the past four years, during the American and Russian presence [in Syria]. We have been acting in support of Israel’s security interests,” he said last week.
Shanahan will have to contend with the threat, and smooth over the concerns of many allies in the region, especially Israel.